By: Kyle Gibson

Continuing our series with a look at the 2016 roster (QB/WR, TE/RB) the offensive line is up next. We’ve already addressed the losses Notre Dame will be dealing with on the offensive line this off-season but let’s take another in depth look at this very deep and talented group.

Offensive Line
Lost: Ronnie Stanley, Nick Martin, Steve Elmer
Mark Harrell (GS)
Mike McGlinchey (Sr)
Hunter Bivin (Sr)
Colin McGovern (Sr)
John Montelus (Sr)
Quenton Nelson (Jr)
Alex Bars (Jr)
Sam Mustipher (Jr)
Jimmy Byrne (So)
Tristen Hoge (So)
Trevor Ruhland (So)
Tommy Kraemer (Fr)
Liam Eichenberg (Fr)
Parker Boudreaux (Fr)

Over the past few years OL Coach Harry Heistand has assembled one of the more impressive OL groups in the country bringing in a few of the best prospects in each recruiting class. With the Irish losing three of last year’s starters the recruitment and development of these young men is more valuable than ever. Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson are the two returning lineman who entered last season as a starter but Alex Bars got valuable playing time and even started two games in place of an injured Nelson before he suffered an ankle injury himself that sidelined him for the remainder of the season.

Bars is already a lock to move into a starting role next season but the question will be where. Heading into last season he was about dead even in competition with Quenton Nelson to earn the starting job in an open guard position but many project the Junior as more of a natural tackle. With there being an opening at both guard and tackle we’ll be interested to see if the staff starts out keeping Bars at guard where he competed and played last season or if he moves outside. He’ll likely get looks at both and where he ends up playing could depend as much on his fellow lineman as it does on his own abilities.

The other decision to be made that has a big impact on the makeup of the line is whether or not to flip Mike McGlinchey over to the left tackle position vacated by Stanley. It’s an extremely common move when there’s an opening at LT and an experienced player at RT. The root cause is the desire to have your best and most experienced tackle playing on the left side because that’s typically the “blind side” of your QB. Having a lefty like Malik Zaire changes the blind side to the right but even with Zaire entering last season as the starter, the coaching staff kept Ronnie Stanley at LT. But Stanley, like McGlinchey, started out playing RT and then flipped sides when Zack Martin departed for the NFL. Many expect the same thing to happen this year with McGlinchey regardless of who plays at QB. Even with a left handed QB, defenses are typically geared to being stronger and more aggressive towards the left side of the O-Line.

Either way there’s still going to be a tackle position open and the most likely candidates are Bars moving outside or Hunter Bivin. Bivin is another one of those versatile linemen that could play inside or out and has trained at about every position on the line through the years. As a Junior in ’15 it appeared that he had settled into the tackle position where he played back-up to Stanley. There’s been a lot of praise for the rising Junior and many feel his years of learning behind Zack Martin and Ronnie Stanley have him groomed to take the step into a starting role. If McGlinchey does in fact move to the left side, it would likely increase Bivin’s chances of starting as RT seems to be a preferred location to break in a new starting tackle.

Due to the combination of experience and seniority Bivin and Bars have a leg up on everyone else to take over the vacated guard and tackle spots, likely forming a new starting duo on the right side of the line but the wildcard could be Colin McGovern. The rising Senior figures to compete at guard and if Bars does end up sliding out to tackle it would increase his chances as he stands a much better chance beating out Bivin than Bars who is already a lock to play.

That leaves only the center position up for grabs where we expect to see a battle between last season’s back-up Sam Mustipher and hyped youngster Tristen Hoge. Mustipher has experience and seniority in his corner but many feel that Hoge has a much higher ceiling and when given the chance can win a competition for the starting role. Of all the open positions this feels like the biggest toss up and there may not be a decision till later in Fall camp. Mustipher will enter Spring camp atop the depth chart but he’ll have to perform well and earn his place if he doesn’t want to get leapfrogged by the surging Hoge. Mark Harrell will likely be brought back for a 5th year but based on his history he seems destined to play back-up wherever he’s needed.

There’s a lot of hype surrounding the incoming Freshmen but despite their game ready size and natural ability it’s just highly unlikely that they could make any realistic push for a starting role. Kraemer especially and possibly Eichenberg could actually be worthy of being on the two-deep at tackle where depth is needed behind the starters but it’s just not sensible to burn a redshirt year unless catastrophe strikes. Another item of note on the O-Line is that John Montelus appears to have switched over to the defensive line based on the footage we’ve seen of winter workouts. As a rising Senior he has yet to make any push for cracking into the depth chart for playing time so trying out something new makes sense even though the D-Line is already loaded with bigger interior players.

Projected 2016 OL Depth Chart

Mike McGlinchey- 6’8 310lbs
Mark Harrell- 6’4 306lbs

Quenton Nelson- 6’5 325lbs
Colin McGovern- 6’5 315lbs

Tristen Hoge- 6’5 300lbs
Sam Mustipher- 6’3 305lbs

Alex Bars-6’6 320lbs
Jimmy Byrne- 6’4 300lbs

Hunter Bivin- 6’6 305lbs
Colin McGovern- 6’5 315lbs

As is common with offensive lines the 2nd string is a fluid situation. Much like Bars last season there’s often times a sixth man who is tapped to step in at any position when there’s an injury in the starting five. It’s more about getting your 5 best players on the field in any combination rather than having players locked into only one specified position. That’s why you’ll potentially see some musical chairs when a season ending injury strikes on the line. I’d anticipate McGovern or Bivin being that 6th man based on who finds a place in the starting five.